Biden and Ryan Argue Over Tank Funding Army Doesn’t Want

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP via GettyImages

Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan participate in the vice presidential debate at the Norton Center at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, on October 10, 2012, moderated by Martha Raddatz, center, of ABC News.

The war in Iraq ended in December 2011 and the U.S. is winding down the war in Afghanistan. So you’d think it would be a no-brainer to cut costs for war-related equipment.

Not so, the Pentagon has discovered. The military finds itself on the losing end of a battle in Washington: the war on tank funding. It wants to cut spending on upgrading M1 Abrams tanks made by General Dynamics Corp., but lawmakers keep restoring it.

The Congress vs. Defense Department skirmish has emerged as a point of contention between Vice President Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate. During the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky, Biden said the military has pushed for a smaller, leaner Army.

“We don’t need more M1 tanks,” he said. “What we need is more UAVs.” Biden was referring to unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

Ryan took him to task during an Oct. 12 campaign stop in Lancaster, Ohio, about 125 miles southeast of the Lima plant where older versions of the tanks are overhauled and rebuilt. By saying the U.S. doesn’t need more tanks, “what we are doing is we’re projecting weakness and when we project weakness abroad, our enemies become more brazen,” Ryan said.

The Army has a fleet of about 6,000 Abrams tanks, its main battle tank, according to James Hasik, a defense industry consultant in Austin, Texas.

“Unless you want to start a land war in Asia, you’re never going to need more than 2,000 and, in fact, you need a lot fewer than that,” Hasik has said.

The service says it has plenty of tanks to go around. “The conundrum we have is that we don’t need the tanks,” General Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, testified on March 7 before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. He said the average tank at the time was 2-1/2 years old.

Apparently, the tank lobby has the stronger army on Capitol Hill. The Army sought to fund the tank upgrades at $181 million in its budget request for fiscal 2012. Congress disagreed and added $255 million.

The military in its request for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 proposed reducing the program to $74.4 million. The House has voted to add $181 million, while a Senate committee has voted to add $91 million. The full Senate hasn’t yet passed the measure.

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